ALTON — As water cascaded off umbrellas on a rainy afternoon, it also began cascading down the rocks of a majestic waterfall that had been silent and dry for years.
On Tuesday, Alton Mayor Brant Walker, the Public Works Department and Parks Department all were on hand as the switch was flicked to restart the structure at Rock Spring Park, which has lain dormant for more than 20 years.
“On behalf of the Rock Spring 2020 Committee, I want to express the excitement and appreciation for the work that has led up to the waterfall restoration being completed,” committee head Greg Gelzinnis said. “This project symbolizes the work of the city and its departments, private businesses, and committed volunteers … together, we can accomplish great things.”
Before the fount could be operational, a new water line had to be run, electric lines and timers installed, stones replaced, and the pump rebuilt. Illinois American Water installed the water line and meter. Alton Public Works Director Bob Barnhart says grant money has helped defray some of the costs.
“When the mayor put me in this position, he stressed that we needed to be proactive with some of the in-town parks,” Barnhart said. “This is part of that effort. We are working hard to make these parks a destination once again.”
Earl and Mike Gray of Riverbend Concrete Restoration donated their time and labor to repair the structure, and the Sierra Club assisted with landscaping around the waterfall. Earl Gray, whose company spent a month donating time to the project, spoke to the crowd of wet onlookers just before it was activated.
“We wanted to see it running again,” he said.
He also said it has been sealed with two layers of waterproofing polymer, ensuring years of use.
“This is a way to work in a positive way with a combined public and private effort,” Barnhart said. “The city can’t do these renovations on its own, and the public can’t do it alone, so with this bond we can push forward and rebuild the community, one park at a time.”
Lighting for the waterfall is in the works for next spring.
“We will do something creative there,” Barnhart said.
2014 has been a year of activity for the park. Many weekends, chainsaws can be heard clearing brush, and voices call to one another back and forth along the paths as volunteers bustle here and there, cleaning and repairing in preparation for the park’s rebirth.
Rock Spring Park once was a popular destination for families and events. With the introduction of Gordon F. Moore Community Park to the area, Rock Spring Park became less utilized and by the late 1970s had begun to fall into disrepair. That included the waterfall, constructed in 1967 and shut down in the 1990s.
“We feel that at least one, maybe two entire generations have little or no fond memories of the park,” Gelzinnis said. “At one time, that was the place to be. Dances, recreational activities, reunions, crawdad hunting in the creek … there have been wonderful memories created and this is the fabric of family history.”
Concerns and problems with the area in the last 30 years include building disrepair, road surface problems, playground equipment and its proximity to the woods, illegal activity and overall safety and reputation.
Starting with the Christmas Wonderland display, the park began a slow turnaround. Lighting was improved. Law enforcement made the area a priority, patrolling and putting a stop to much of the drug and loitering activity. In the last year, efforts have ramped up with Gelzinnis’ group descending on the area on a regular basis to revitalize the park by providing landscaping services.
“As the water once again flows, let it be a reminder of just what we can accomplish together,” Gelzinnis said. “I also hope that this project can continue to be a catalyst and springboard for the Rock Spring 2020 Committee as we continue to refresh, revitalize and transform Rock Spring Park back to the ‘Grand Lady’ she was meant to be.”
Walker reemphasized his mission for the city during the ceremony.
“If you want a better future, build it,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
The rebirth of the waterfall at the entrance to the park not only is the next step in that revitalization, but also a symbol of what can be achieved when community loyalty and passion ignites among residents. As travelers along College Avenue drive past, they can look over and see the waterfall’s message, loud and clear.
Rock Spring Park is alive.